The Lak'a Uta Project on the Bolivian plateau
The rural village of Lahuachaca is 130 kilometres from Bolivia's capital, La Paz. This little, quite village is like many others on the Bolivian plateau of Altiplano. Risen above the dusty marketplace is a group of buildings, which stand out from their surroundings because of their uniquely arched roofs.
Together these houses make 'Centro Lak'a Uta'. In the local language of Aymara 'Lak'a Uta means 'homes of earth'.
This is the very descriptive name given to the building concept which DIB and local organisations have introduced and continue to develop.
The homes are completely constructed of sun-dried earth blocks, or 'adobes' which have been used for generations on the plateau.
The Lak'a Uta concept grew out of designs from Nubia in southern Egypt. There people have been building self-bearing parabolic curved earth roofs for more than 6000 years.
A Lak'a Uta home is simple to build and required no wood at all. Wood is a rarity on a plateau 4000m above sea level, making it expensive.
Apart from being cheap, the Lak'a Uta homes are more healthy than the common housing roofed with straw or metal sheeting. The earth blocks shade the interior while trapping hot daytime sun which is then gently radiated into the homes at night.
On the sunny side of the home there is an inbuilt 'trombé wall', which is a passive solar heating system. A black wall, sealed behind plexiglass collects the suns warmth during the hot days, and then delivers it into the house during the evening. These trombé walls are so effective that the home owners can warm the home, even when the temperature falls well below freezing.
Since the first home shot up at the end of the 1980's in Centro Lak'a Uta, the area has been expanded several times and continues to be DIB's point of reference for their ongoing work in Bolivia.
In the project Sustainable Settlements on Altiplano 1997 – 2001 (BBA) (in Danish) the project was widened beyond education and technical assistance to owner-builders to include building research, professional construction, credit schemes and the establishment of women's groups.
Many hundreds of farming families have so far built their own Lak'a Uta and new homes are constantly shooting up. The BBA project has also lead to development of a building manual which makes it possible to start building without personal help from others. The freely distributed manual shows the building process step-by-step with text and pictures.
It is not only amount poorer communities that Lak'a Uta homes are popular. The attractive and environmental homes have become sought after by people with more resources in and around large towns. This has meant that independent building firms, who were educated as part of the BBA project have been able to continue building, so both architects and tradesmen trained in the project have found work.
The interest in Lak'a Uta has meant that earth construction has had a rebirth of popularity in Bolivia. Homes built of earth are no longer seen as houses only fit for the poor who don't have the means for anything else.
The contact people for this project are Paul Erik Bidinger & Peter Christensen, DIBs secretariat. There are also more photos available.
Translation version 1.0 (28th Sept 2004) by Duncan Lithgow